The Unapologetic Bayhem of Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Michael Bay isn’t one to apologize for his craft. Graced with praise and incessantly ridiculed, such controversy doesn’t continue when the artist collapses to the level of their audience. “I make movies for teenage boys. Oh dear, what a crime.”, the slam-bang blockbuster provocateur infamously stated, and it only seemed to rile up his detractors more, somehow embarrassing his cult nonetheless. Whenever a common ground between his fans and critics seems to be reached, a new think-piece emerges; challenging the perception of his filmography, or another Transformers installment arrives; allowing age-old arguments to rise from the grave. The pettiness on display, running in circles from project to project, hot-take to hot-take, heightens itself with a figure like Bay, who has found, and will always find, success with the very formula which angers much of his audience.
It’s classic hypocrisy, morbid curiosity, and various degrees of excitement and horror, all bundled up in an eternal blockbuster countdown clock of an auteur refusing to stop. ‘Bayhem’ is ceaseless - a glorious smashdown, a colossal terror, maybe even both – and the fire will never fail against the tricking gasoline stream of internet vitriol, igniting every few years into a crass, outrageous tirade.
Enter Dark of the Moon.
Following Revenge of the Fallen, an excessive, mega-budget expansion of both action and Bay’s inherent over-simplification of women, racism, and homophobia, the response factor was the most apologetic in regards to how Bay approached the third sequel. The director promised less of the “dorky humor” of the second film, and after an initial release-date mix-up (Bay thought the film was releasing in 2012; not 2011!), production was up and running. With progressive 3D technology being deployed after the recent Avatar sensation (James Cameron even told Bay: “You gotta look at it as a toy, it's another fun tool to help get emotion and character and create an experience.”).
The result is a supreme spectacle, fluid and chaotic in typical ‘Bayhem’ fashion yet less obtrusive in editing, with three dimensions providing stability to an overwhelming explosion pageantry. With skepticism of the format in full swing, the push to showcase such technology was pressuring many artists into half-assed post-production work, and Bay, a vocal skeptic, took a chance that turned into a grand, expansive success for early 2010s blockbuster moviemaking.
The hurdles were tough, initially. Bay and his crew had to create a more mobile 3D camera to suit his work ethic, enabling location shooting and accuracy of his frenzied compositions. He was also still struggling with the response to Fallen after the Writer’s Strike of 2007 and 2008 – the closest he’ll probably ever get to apologizing for his art. Dark of the Moon needed to be different, and the chosen route was with those pesky glasses you get with the purchase of your tickets.
Bay was very much aware of the pushback (“You'll hear people say now, 'Oh, I don't want to see something in 3-D. That's wrong, because what they've seen is 3-D done poorly.”), and as committed as he is, the filmmaker strove to destructive, rampaging greatness by incorporating his style within a (slightly, to be fair) toned-down rhythm, turning its head towards the strange, poetic movements of robots in flight, combat, and yes, transformation, instead of the consequences of their lumbering battles. It’s the first Transformers to finally grasp the undeniable fact that the robots are the stars, and the cookie-cutter plot, if it’s truly essential, needs to be spaced out in between incendiary, preposterous sustained sequences of action.
And what action! Bay’s construction of the final ‘battle-to-end-all-battles’ (set in downtown Chicago, no less) is sublime, with 3D providing a pause within individual moments and allowing Bay to breath even as the pacing scurries towards another apocalyptic peak. The film is not incoherent. Rather, it tip-toes on the edge of a special-effects oblivion; balancing a line of poise and upheaval with the precision of a loud, intertwining mechanical alien.
After the reckless, disastrous Revenge of the Fallen, Dark of the Moon is a miracle in that its narrative is tolerable as well as its fireworks, never sacrificing in each yet understanding their respective places. And of course, ‘Bayhem’ reigns, providing a special itch only Michael Bay can scratch. Whether following wingsuits through a metropolis skyline or observing a snake-like amalgamation slowly tear a building in half (with our main characters inside), the director’s signature is unmistakable. The feelings it instills could either be one of satisfaction or headache, but what’s better than an artist provoking the extremes?